Verna Heaton Benham grew up on a small ranch in the Black Hills in the forties. Shortly after graduating from college in Spearfish, she joined the United States Foreign Service and traveled the world. “Champagne In A Paper Cup: Memoir Of A Journey” is Benham’s account of her extraordinary journey from rural South Dakota to exotic places across the globe.
Verna Heaton Benham spent her childhood in the old mining town of Roubaix - just outside of Deadwood. Benham says she had a simple upbringing. She went to a country school and her family lived off the land. She says it was a time before Mt. Rushmore was built, before electricity, phones, and TV were widely available. She says just a trip to town was an adventure.
“We had these old cars, you know, Model A and older than that, in the summer the water would boil over in the radiator and so someone would have to go down to the creek to get more water, pour it in, before we could continue on up over Strawberry Hill into Deadwood,” says Benham.
Benham graduated from the Lead High School and continued on to be valedictorian of the Black Hills Teachers College in 1959. She says she felt the need to spread her wings and applied to work with the U.S. Foreign Service. Benham says she caused quite a stir as the only applicant from South Dakota. People were curious.
“Deadwood – does it have paved streets? And I hesitated a little bit because I was thinking about it and there are some cobblestone streets and so they laughed and laughed and we had a great deal of fun over that. It’s not that they were making fun of South Dakota but in a way it seemed like a primitive sort of other sort of place to some of these people from other parts of the country,” says Benham.
After decades of living and working abroad, Benham, now seventy-five, is sharing her experiences in her book “Champagne In A Paper Cup: Memoir Of A Journey.” She says it’s a book about self-reflection.
“So the book was also kind of an exploration of that spiritual journey – trying to sort out questions and retain those good values that I did get from that life in South Dakota,” says Benham.
Benham now lives in Texas with her husband. She says although she doesn’t get home to South Dakota much anymore her brother Gary still lives in the house her father built on that small ranch outside of Deadwood.